by Cunningham Geikie, D.D.

Notes on Revelation Online Books

 

Chapter 34 | Contents | Chapter 36


The Holy Land and the Bible
A Book of Scripture Illustrations gathered in Palestine

Cunningham Geikie D.D.

With a Map of Palestine and Original Illustrations by H. A. Harper
Special Edition

(1887)

CHAPTER 35—TO GERIZIM

The Valley of Shiloh—Lubban (Lebonah)—SawiehKefr HarisThe "Green Trees" of ScriptureAwerta: The Tomb of PhinehasEl MukhnahThe Oak of ShechemThe Well of SamariaAskar (Sychar): View of Gerizim and EbalTraditional Tomb of JosephNablus (Shechem): its MosqueMarriage CustomsThe Summit of GerizimScene of the Cursings and BlessingsThe Views from Gerizim and EbalA Samaritan Community: Their Sacred Writings: The High Priest: The Protestant MissionThe Associations of ShechemSalem and Ainun (Enon)

Leaving this venerable place, which had long been a deserted ruin, even in the days of Jeremiah (7:12) we rode over the open plain along the side of the Wady Seilun—the Valley of Shiloh; the ground lying for the time idle, but covered with the stubble of a crop of Indian corn, which it had borne the year before. There were a few olives here and there, and rolling land broke the level around; for ground without hills is a rarity in Palestine. Red anemones and white cyclamens abounded, intermixed with other flowers; among them, if it can be called a flower, a curious variety of the pitcher plant, with a bag on each stalk to secrete water, as a reservoir from which to quench its thirst in the dry burning heat that was approaching. An hour's ride, of course at the usual walking pace, brought us close to Lebonah, now Lubban, which we had already seen from a distance. The hill is extremely barren; but a little green was brightening the patch before the mud-coloured huts, and a few olives were growing around. There were also a few lean cattle about. From this point the plain is surrounded by hills. Lebonah was a village as long ago as the time of the old Hebrew Judges (21:19), and it was also one of the places from which the wine used in the Temple services was procured, though its nearness to the frontier of Samaria raised a doubt in later times respecting the absolute ceremonial cleanness of anything brought from it, for might not the north wind blow some polluting dust on the grapes, or into the wine-presses, from the hated territory of the "foolish people of Shechem"?

Climbing up a rough slope, amidst rocks and thorny growth that made progress extremely laborious, the road soon bent downwards again, between stony, barren hills, though occasionally crowned by villages on both sides of the track, while groves of olives and figs enlivened the view at short intervals. Close by the road, just after passing the village of Sawieh, stood a very large khan, built of hewn stones, and fairly tenantable, though only as Orientals understand the phrase. There were such public hospices in the oldest times on the chief roads; mere shelters for man and beast—with a supply of water at hand—such as the prophet sighed after: "lodging places of wayfaring men in the wilderness" (Jer 9:2). Jewish travellers would not sleep in Samaritan territory if it were possible to avoid doing so, and hence this khan was built on the border, which ran past the village of Berkit, almost exactly in a line with the hospice. At Sawieh, therefore, we stood on the edge of Samaria, the stony valley north of it being the first piece of Samaritan ground. There is a fine evergreen oak-tree at this place; a great rarity in the land, which, as I have often said, possesses hardly any large trees at all. There is another species of oak which grows about twenty feet high, and a third which forms a large part of the stunted growth of the hills, rising only from eight to twelve feet in height; but even a single tree which is respectable according to our ideas, like Abraham's Oak at Hebron or this at Sawieh, is rarely indeed to be seen in the Holy Land.

Towards noon, a very steep ascent over step above step of rock, up which our horses had to find a practicable path as they best could, brought us to the top of a ridge from which the view to the north was magnificent. Straight before us, beyond a succession of lower hill-tops, rose the massy forms of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim, marking the Valley of Shechem, where Abraham raised his first altar in the land; and then, far away to the north, high up in the skies, shone a dazzling white cloud—the snowy crown of Mount Hermon. At our feet was the noble plain called El Mukhnah—about nine miles from north to south, and four from east to west—and on the slopes at its farther side, the village of Howarah. We were entering a region hallowed by the earliest traditions of Israel, dating from a time far earlier than the wretched feuds between them and the Samaritans. In the days of Joshua this had justly been the most famous part of the country, not only for its fertility and beauty, but as being consecrated by the presence of Gerizim, the Mount of Blessings, before which the Tribes had held their first great national assembly, and made a formal covenant with Jehovah, leaving the twelve stones inscribed with the law, and buried on the top of the Mount, as an abiding witness to their vows (Josh 8:34). In those days Shiloh alone shared with Shechem the glory of being a central meeting-place of the nation for public affairs (Josh 18:1); but Shechem had the special honour of seeing the people gathered in its valley a second time, just before the death of Joshua, to renew the covenant with God made in the same place long years before (Josh 24:25). In this region the heroes of that age lived, and here they were buried.

Five miles to the east of us, as we crossed the ridge, lay Kefr Haris—the village of Haris—recalling at once "Heres," where Joshua was buried (Judg 2:9). The claims of Tibneh, which were first brought forward by Captain Conder, have already been stated (see ante, 44,45); those of Kefr Haris are these—that the Samaritans think it the right spot, and that Jewish pilgrims, seven hundred years ago, spoke of the tombs of Joshua, Caleb, and Nun as being here. Three hundred years ago one of the Rabbis wrote of the monuments over the tombs, and of the carob and pomegranate trees beside them; another gave a sketch showing three domed buildings, with two trees, and lights burning inside the domes.

Descending from the steep and stony ridge to a grassy slope, with some caves in its rocky side, in which two or three cattle had found coolness and shade, we spread our mats on the ground and had lunch, screening ourselves from the brightness as well as we could in the shadow of the rocks. Had we known it, a fine carob-tree, a little way farther on, would have given us a much more satisfactory resting-place; for, soon afterwards, we came upon one, from the thick boughs of which fluttered a great many bits of rags, it being regarded by Mahommedans as a holy tree. Some think that the "green trees" mentioned in Scripture as associated with idolatry among the Jews were of this kind—the carob—its thick, dark green foliage distinguishing it from all others in Palestine (Judg 6:25; Jer 2:20, 3:6). As we went across the beautiful plain, rich crops were rising in every direction. Women in their long blue cotton dresses, one or two with babies, were busy pulling out weeds, to carry them home as fodder. Children played about near their mothers, and at some places cattle and calves were tethered by short ropes, and allowed to eat what was within their reach. A little later, about three in the afternoon, other groups of women and children, who had been busy at the same task, were resting in the field; the women, doubtless, tired out with constant stooping. The hills around, forming a girdle to the valley on all sides, rose in green terraces, step above step, in the spaces between the horizontal beds of limestone which were jutting out, many of these little plateaus showing long plantations of olive- and fig-trees. A string of camels stalked slowly past with long, ungainly strides, and, as evening drew on, the women, with their children, were to be seen slowly wending their way homewards.

Near Howarah we came on a natural pond, or hollow, of rain-water, brown with mud. Peasants bearing their ploughs on their shoulders had stopped at it, and after washing themselves, they turned towards Mecca and reverently said their evening prayer. The road to the village rose and fell slowly, in long waves, to the west, but there was nothing to detain us in the village itself. Much more interesting was the village of Awerta, in the middle of the plain, about two miles nearly east of Howarah, for in it is a domed monument which concurrent tradition, both Jewish and Mahommedan, asserts to be the tomb of Phinehas, son of the Eleazar who succeeded his father Aaron in the great office of the high-priesthood. Not far from this another domed tomb, in a paved courtyard, and under the shadow of a great terebinth, is said to be that of Eleazar, who, in his turn, was succeeded as high priest by his son Phinehas. There seems little doubt, indeed, that we have, in these tombs, the true memorials of the resting-places of the family of Aaron, and, if so, how venerable is the antiquity to which they carry us back! The great plain of Mukhnah, across part of which we pass to reach Awerta, is an undulating expanse, with villages cresting the successive elevations, wide cornfields stretching between them, and olive plantations running along the slopes. I know few finer sights than this great breadth of fertile land, but perhaps its attractiveness is due in part to contrast with the general barrenness of Palestine.

Three or four miles farther on, to the north-west, a valley opens to the west from the plain—that of Shechem, memorable in many ways. Just at the corner where you turn into it from the open ground, and close to the foot of Gerizim, is the hamlet of Balata, the name of which among the Samaritans is "The Holy Oak" or "The Tree of Grace." This name strengthens the force of the identification of this site by St. Jerome with that of the Oak of Shechem or of Moreh (Gen 12:6, oak, not plain)—under which Abraham pitched his tent and built his altar—the first sanctuary of Jehovah in the Land of Promise. It was under that tree, long since gone, that Jacob buried the teraphim of Rachel and the idolatrous amulets of his household, and under, or near it, he, too, built an altar, which he dedicated to El Elohe Israel—God, the God of Israel (Gen 33:20); his habitual caution being shown in his first buying the land on which he "spread his tent," and which he consecrated to Jehovah (Gen 33:19). At a later date, Joshua, also, recognised this ancient holy place of his nation, by "setting up a great stone under an oak that was by the sanctuary of God," as a witness which had "heard all the words of the Lord which He spake" (Josh 24:27); as if the great commander thought that the stone consecrated by him to Jehovah was now in some sense connected with the Deity.

The belief that consecrated stones become in some way habitations of the Being to whom they are dedicated has been held in every age by men at a particular stage of intellectual or religious development, as we see in the "holy stones" of our own country, which have enjoyed the superstitious reverence of the peasantry almost to the present day. In the same spirit, Arnobius, a teacher of rhetoric in the Roman province of Africa, and after a time a Christian Father, confesses, in the fourth century, that before becoming a Christian, "whenever he espied an anointed stone, or one bedaubed with oil, he worshiped it, as though some person dwelt in it, and, addressing himself to it, begged blessings from a senseless stock." The oak in Joshua's narrative was doubtless that under which Abraham and Jacob had raised their altar, and that altar was Joshua's "Sanctuary of God." At a later time, when the primitive tradition of the spot had become corrupted, an oak at some distance from Shechem was spoken of as "The Oak of the Meonenim" (Judg 9:37), or Soothsayers; but that of Abraham and Jacob was here, or very close by.

Close to this site of the earliest sanctuary in the land is still to be seen the well which Jacob caused to be dug. As it is near magnificent springs gushing from the roots of Gerizim, and flowing to the east, his undertaking so heavy a task as sinking so deep a well and building a wall round the excavation can only be explained by the jealousy with which the Canaanites, like all Eastern peoples, no doubt regarded their own springs. To have trusted to these, would have been to invite trouble in the future: it was therefore very much better for the patriarch to have a well on his own property, so as to be independent of his neighbours. This Well of Samaria lies a little off the road, on the right hand, the track skirting the left slope of the valley. Turning my horse down the rough side of the road, it was a very short way, over stony, unused ground, to the sacred spot. There is nothing visible now above ground. A little chapel, about twenty feet long, once built over the well, has long ago fallen, its stones lying in rough heaps outside and around the opening below; not a few of them, I fear, at the bottom, helping to fill up the shaft. The ground slopes up to the fragments of the broken-down wall, and you have to let yourself down as you best can to reach the well itself. The church dates from the fifth century, but, except these stones, the only traces of it are some remains of tesselated pavements and carved stones, which are hidden beneath rubbish, but were seen by the Palestine Surveyors.

Over the well is a great stone with a round hole in the middle, large enough for the skin buckets of the peasantry to pass down. How old this covering is no one can say,* but the well itself, beyond the possibility of doubt, is that at the side of which, perhaps on some masonry long since gone, our blessed Lord sat, nearly nineteen hundred years ago, while the disciples had gone up the little valley to Shechem, a mile to the west (John 4:5-30). The woman whom He met, and with whom He held discourse, came from Sychar, a little village now called Askar, just round the north corner of the valley, on the slope of Ebal, not half as far off as Shechem. The well is seven feet and a half across, and its depth, which some centuries ago was 105 feet, is still about seventy-five feet, though, for ages, every visitor has thrown down stones, to hear the echo when they strike the bottom. Thus the well is still "deep," and it must have been much deeper in the time of our Lord. It is cut through a thick bed of soil, swept down in the course of ages by the rains from the hills on each side, and beneath this great deposit it passes through soft rock, the water filtering in through the sides, to the depth, occasionally, of about twelve feet, even yet, though it is now dry in summer, and sometimes for years together. It is thus rather a "beer," or rain pit, than a spring well, so that when our Lord told the woman that, if she had asked Him, He would have given her, not rain-water, such as she gave Him, but "living water," it must have struck her greatly. Over forty years ago, a boy was induced to allow himself to be let down for the apparently hopeless purpose of finding and bringing up again a Bible, dropped into the well accidentally three years before, and, strange to say, he found it, the bottom being quite dry at the time. The depth was then said to be exactly seventy-five feet. Captain Anderson also went down, in 1866, but had a perilous descent, for after passing through the round hole in the covering stone, and through a narrow neck, four feet long, requiring him to raise his arms over his head, he fainted away, and only recovered consciousness after lying for a time insensible on the stones below. The mouth and upper part of the well he found to be of masonry, with which, indeed, the whole of it had the appearance of having been lined. To sink such a shaft, seven and a half feet broad, through perhaps a hundred and fifty feet of earth and rock, was an undertaking involving no little skill, as well as a large outlay, and its existence is a proof both of the enterprise and of the wealth of the patriarch.

* Captain Conder thinks it certainly not older than the 12th century AD.
Our Lord must have sat with His face to the south-west, since He speaks of Gerizim as "this mountain." He may have pointed to it by a movement of the head, or with His finger, as He uttered the words which proclaimed the cessation of all great local centres of worship as exclusively holy. "Woman, believe me, the hour cometh when ye shall neither on this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father," but true worshippers were to "worship the Father in spirit and in truth" (John 4:21,23). Around Him were the same sights as are before the visitor of to-day—the rich side valley running up westward, to Shechem, with a rippling streamlet in its centre; the groves that border the town, hiding the houses themselves from view; the heights of Gerizim, towering in rounded masses one over another, to a great height, close before Him on the south. Mount Ebal, steep, but terraced almost to the top into gardens of prickly pear, which is grown for its fruit, lay behind Him, the little hamlet of Balata, where Abraham's altar once stood under the sacred tree, the mud-huts of Sychar and the dome of Joseph's tomb being at its foot. To the east stretched away the great plain, which for miles each way was then "white already to harvest"; beyond it were the hallowed site of Salem, near to Enon, where His herald the Baptist had preached, and the wooded hill of Phinehas, with the tomb of the once fiery high priest.

The traditional tomb of Joseph lies about six hundred yards north of the well, beside a little mosque with a low dome. Jews, Samaritans, and Christians, alike accept it as the actual place of the burial of the patriarch, and it is quite possible that if it could be opened we should find his mummy below, for we read that the children of Israel brought the bones of Joseph from Egypt and buried them in Shechem, in a parcel of ground which Jacob bought, and that it became the inheritance of the sons of Joseph (Josh 24:32). The tomb stands in a little yard close to the mosque, at the end of a fine row of olive- and fig-trees, and enclosed by a low stone wall. Two low pillars stand at the head and foot of the tomb, their tops hollowed out and blackened by fire; the Jews making a practice of burning small articles, such as gold lace, shawls, or handkerchiefs, in these saucer-like cups, in memory of the patriarch who sleeps beneath.

The Valley of Shechem is one of the most beautiful places in the Holy Land. Flowing water, lofty mountains, rich vegetation, and even the singing of birds among the hill-side copses or the rich olive-groves, unite to make it delightful. There are three large springs in the valley, running in a broad stream past the Turkish barracks, which are on the left hand, commanding the approach to Shechem, or Nablus as it is now called, by a contraction of the Roman name Neapolis, which means, like Naples, "The New City." On the open space east of this large building a great number of Armenian pilgrims had pitched their tents beneath the olive-trees, their horses and mules hobbling round with feet tied together, while the owners rested and enjoyed themselves—for a merry set they appeared to be. Beyond the barracks great numbers of the townspeople were amusing themselves in the staid fashion of Orientals, it being Friday, the Mahommedan Sunday. The women were all hidden by long white veils descending to the ground, before and behind; the men were in all colours. Passing round the town on the underside, to the east, and mounting through some very dilapidated roads to higher ground on the farther side, we found our tents pitched among olive-trees, just below the Mahommedan cemetery, with the pleasant prospect of having no water to drink but from a spring which bubbled out close to us on the slope, after percolating through some acres of graves. Such a situation never strikes an Oriental as undesirable for an encampment; indeed, it seems the rule to choose graveyards for this purpose, and it was only by great efforts that I could get water brought from above the cemetery to cook our dinner.

Nablus at last lay before us, a town of domes and minarets, more attractive from without, as it proved, than from within. To the right, looking down the valley, rose Gerizim, in bold, angular masses of rock; on the left, Ebal, with its many terraces of prickly pear. Nablus has twenty-seven soap and olive-oil works, and great mounds of soap ashes rose near us like low hills, numbers of masterless dogs basking on them, or wandering about till night set them free to roam the town, from which they are quite aware they must keep away during the day. So it is to be in the New Jerusalem: dogs, despised and unclean creatures in the East, are there to be "without" (Rev 22:15). Beyond the town the valley was so narrow that a few olive and fig plantations filled it from hill to hill. There were no town walls worth mention, and the town gates seem long ago to have been removed, or to stand open permanently. Inside the town, the streets were much like those of Jerusalem, though a great proportion of them were vaulted over, making them both dark and dirty. The houses were of stone, with few windows, small projecting lattices—nicely carved in many cases—and low doors, here and there adorned with texts from the Koran, as a sign that the owner had been to Mecca. The town is very small, but it extends a considerable distance from east to west, in which direction the two principal streets run.

It is only within the last few years that Christians have been able to move about freely in Nablus, except in the sunken middle of the streets; but the Mahommedans are less ferocious now than they used to be. In the east of the town, a great mosque, once a church dedicated by the Crusaders to St. John, speaks of the ancient strength of their garrison. It is touching to see it, with the finely carved, deep gate, of three recessed arches and delicate side pillars, in the hands of the barbarian, and one can only hope that the Cross may some day again take the place of the Crescent.

The house of the Protestant missionary was naturally an attraction, but it was not easy to reach it through the labyrinth of cross alleys and lanes. In Europe, the variety in the look of the streets helps one to remember a route, but it is no easy matter to make one's way in an Eastern town, between rows of blank walls often darkened by vaulted arcades. The view from the parsonage, when I reached it, was, however, very attractive. Rich green rose everywhere among the yellow buildings. Gerizim towered on the south, and on the north the still higher Ebal lifted its great bulk to the heavens. The former hill is much more cut into clefts and distinct parts than the latter, and the Hebrews were justified in regarding it as the Mount of Blessings, apart from special religious causes, because of the abundant streams which pour forth out of its depths and make the valley the richest in the land. The slope of the strata being to the north, Ebal is prevented from contributing in the same way to the local fertility. Evening spread its shadows over the valley long before the glorious hills faded into dark masses—for in their outlines they were still visible under the stars. Nablus is one of the towns in the East where the practice, familiar in the days of our Lord, of celebrating marriages and bringing home the bride during the night, is still observed. Drums, fifes, shouts, and rejoicings break the stillness as late as ten o'clock; old and young pouring out to see the procession—the maidens in their best, the bridegroom and his companions, the bride deeply veiled, the musicians, the crowd, and above all, the flaming lights, which give animation to the whole (Matt 25:1ff).

The ascent of Gerizim is made on horseback, but a good part of the way is so steep that it seems wonderful that the beasts can keep their footing among the loose stones. Passing up behind the town, you come very soon to a magnificent fountain, the water of which is led eastwards by an open watercourse. At this copious source some women were drawing for their households, others were washing their unsavoury linen; men were enjoying their ablutions, and boys were playing in the water. Gardens climbed the hill on the left of the track, beautiful with every fruit-tree that grows in Palestine; and at some places grain was springing up vigorously on terraces raised upon slopes so steep that it seemed impossible their walls could permanently stand. Vines, olives, and figs, filled stray nooks; but the part of the hill up which our horses had to toil was too stony for any cultivation whatever. At several places the limestone stood out in bold cliffs which seemed to overhang the town, several of them forming natural pulpits, from any one of which Jotham may have delivered his famous parable, the earliest of which we know (Judg 9:7ff). When about to utter it, this surviving member of the family of Gideon had suddenly shown himself on one of these projecting shelves of rock, inaccessible from below, but open for escape to the mountain behind. The olive, the fig-tree, the vine, the brier, the bramble, and the thorn, introduced by him as the speakers in his parable, were all within view around, ornamenting the valley or the terraces with their silver-grey or green foliage, or flinging festoons from tree to tree, or creeping over the barren side of the mountain. To compare Abimelech to the worthless bramble, used then, doubtless, as now, for the quickly kindled, fiercely up-blazing, but speedily burnt-out fires of the tent, the household, or the local altar, was no less vigorous than true, and we cannot wonder that Jotham, the moment words so scathing had ended, fled into distant security.

After a weary climb we reached the top of the mountain, but had a long way to ride before we arrived at the farther end. The spot where the Samaritans still sacrifice seven Paschal lambs is very near the east end of the ridge, and thus close to the true peak of Gerizim. A pit, or "tannur," in which the lambs are roasted, was all that appeared of the last year's solemnity. A loose stone wall enclosed a space in which the preparation of the carcases for roasting takes place; the wool being removed with water boiled over a huge fire of brambles. A raised bank in this enclosure further marked where the priests stand during the ceremony, while a shallow trench showed where the sheep are fleeced. Near this sacred spot the whole community spend the night of the Passover in tents, eating the lamb at sundown, with bread and bitter herbs, after the old Hebrew mode (Exo 12:8). Beyond this, to the east, the highest part of the mountain is crowned with the ruins of a castle and a church; a Greek cross remaining over one of the gateways of the former. It dates from the early age of the Greek emperors, having been built apparently by Justinian, or at a yet earlier period. The ruins show that it must have been a very strong fortress; and there is a huge reservoir for water, measuring 120 feet east and west, by sixty feet north and south. The church has been quite levelled with the ground, but some courses of the castle walls are still standing.

I confess, however, that I was more interested in the Samaritan than in the Christian ruins, carrying back the mind, as the former do, to a period before the Captivity of Judah. A rock is pointed out—merely a sloping shelf of limestone—on which Joshua is said to have reared the Tabernacle; and a little rock-sunk trench is dignified as the scene of Abraham's sacrifice, though it appears to be as certain as anything can well be that the patriarch went to Mount Moriah at Jerusalem, not to Gerizim (see ante, p. 416). Joshua, as we know, after having "placed the blessings and the cursings" on Gerizim and Ebal, wrote the whole law on stones which he set up on Ebal (Deut 27:2-8); coating them with the almost imperishable cement of the country, and writing on it, either with paint or with an iron style or pen, while it was soft. Such a mode of preserving writing was common in antiquity, and in so dry a climate would last almost for ever. The Samaritans believe that "the twelve stones" thus inscribed are still in existence on the top of Mount Gerizim, but Sir Charles Wilson and Major Anderson excavated the large masses of rudely-hewn stone supposed to be those of Joshua, and found them to be little better than mere natural slab. Underneath them were two other courses of stones, rudely dressed and unsquared, but there was nothing on them, and the whole appeared to be nothing more than part of one of the many terraces, or paths, which surround the early Christian ruins; or they may, with some similar remains, be the last fragments of the temple built by Sanballat on Gerizim, in opposition to that of Jerusalem;* or, again, part of the fortress of Justinian.

* Palestine Memoirs, ii. 188.
The natural amphitheatre formed by the receding of Mounts Ebal and Gerizim at the same point in the valley below, is wonderfully suited to such an incident as that of reading the law to the Hebrews, at the great assembly of the nation after the taking of Ai by Joshua (Deut 27:12ff; Josh 8:34). The curse was to be put on Mount Ebal and the blessing on Mount Gerizim, half of the tribes standing on Gerizim, responding to blessings and affirming them; half on Ebal, taking the same part with the curses; while both blessings and curses were pronounced by the Levites, who were grouped round the Ark in the centre of the valley. At this, its widest point, the open ground, elsewhere for the most part only a furlong broad, is about half a mile across, but the tops of the two mountains are two miles asunder, while Gerizim rises 1,250 feet, and Ebal nearly 1,500 feet, above the plain.* No sight could well have been grander than this singular spectacle; the Levites in their white robes, guarding the sacred Ark on the gentle rise—the Shechem, or shoulder, which parts the waters flowing to the Dead Sea from those running towards the Mediterranean—and "all Israel, and their elders, and officers, and their judges," in two vast companies, lining the sides of the two mountains, tribe by tribe, in ascending ranks, from the valley to the utmost height; the glorious sky over them as the only fitting roof of such a temple. That all the assembled myriads could easily hear the words of the Levites admits of no question, for the air of Palestine is so clear and dry that the voice can be heard at distances much greater than the residents in other countries would suppose. Sir Charles Wilson tells us, for example, that Arab workmen on the top of Gerizim conversed without effort with men in the valley beneath.
* Gerizim, 1,249 feet; Ebal, 1,477 feet. Gerizim is 2,849 feet above the sea; Ebal, 3,077.
The view from the top of Mount Gerizim is of amazing extent and interest—the bare and desolate slopes of Ebal; the valley below, with its gardens and orchards, the mosque at Joseph's Tomb, the Well of Samaria, and just outside on the plain, the village of Sychar—a poor hamlet on the rocky slop of Ebal, which swells up in slow waves behind it; the glorious plain of Mukhnah—"the Encampment"—with its fields of rich brown tilth; stray villages on its low undulations; clumps of olives beside them; and, on the other side, to the east, a long succession of round-topped hills, cultivated in terraces wherever there is a shelf for soil; while the distant landscape is sprinkled with olives, their grey intermixed with the green of the cornfields. On the west we could see Joppa, thirty-six miles off, at the sea; to the east, the chasm of the Jordan, eighteen miles distant; while at our feet, as if to bring us back from poetry to prose, the poles of the telegraph from Joppa stood up in their bareness along the valley, running past Jacob's Well, and then south to Jerusalem and Egypt, and east to Gilead.

The view from Ebal, however, is even finer. On the north you see Safed, "the city set on a hill" (Matt 5:14), and the snowy head of Mount Hermon, with "Thirza," once the capital of the northern kingdom, famed for its beauty (Song 6:4; 1 Kings 14:17, 15:21,33, 16:8ff), shining out on a very steep hill a little way beyond the plain; on the west, Joppa, and Ramleh, and the sea; on the south, the hills over Bethel; and on the east, the great plain of the Hauran, beyond the Jordan. A striking ruin on the summit of the mountain gives romance even to the Hill of Curses. The enclosure is over ninety feet square, and the walls are no less than twenty feet thick, strongly built of selected unhewn stones, without mortar, with the remains of chambers ten feet square inside. Within the building, moreover, is a cistern, and round it are heaps of stones and ruins. Excavation has thrown no light on the history of the structure. It is too small for a church, for there is only a space fifty feet square inside the amazing walls, and there is no trace of any plaster or cement, such as is associated with the incident of the great stones which Joshua set up, or with any altar that he may have raised on the mountain. Strange to say, some peasant had carried his plough up to the top of the mountain, and had raised a fine crop of lentils, perhaps in the hope that, at such a height, they might escape the greedy eyes of the Turkish officials.

Guided to their quarter by the excellent missionary, I was able to pay a lengthened visit to the remnant of Samaritans still living in Nablus. This most interesting community has increased of late years from 135 to 160 souls, so that it is not actually dying out, nor does it seem likely to do so, the young men being very tall, strong, and handsome. The calamity of ignorance weighs upon them all, however, even physically, for there are several cases of imperfect sight and of other troubles which a little knowledge might have averted. The synagogue was a very modest room, of small size, and in no respect fitted up ecclesiastically, though for courtesy we took off our boots on entering. In a recess at one side were the famous manuscripts of the Pentateuch, two of which were brought out and shown us, though there is a third of still greater age, seen by Mr. Drake and others, and said to be written on the skins of about twenty rams, slain as thank-offerings, the writing being on the side where the hair originally was. It is small and irregular, with the lines far apart, the ink faded and purplish, the parchment much torn, very yellow, and patched; the edges bound with green silk. Down the centre of the scroll, on the back, is said to run a curious feat of skill. By thickening one or two letters of a vertical column this inscription is alleged to have been created: "I, Abishua, son of Phinehas, son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest—the favour of Jehovah be upon them—for His glory I have written this Holy Torah [law] in the entrance of the Tabernacle on Mount Gerizim, near Bethel, in the thirteenth year of the possession by the Children of Israel of the Land of Canaan and all its boundaries; I thank the Lord." Unfortunately for the authenticity of this amazing inscription, there are great numbers of Samaritan rolls on which it appears, the same name, place, and date of composition being given in each case. The two venerable documents which I saw are on rolls, with silk covers, embroidered on the outside with gold letters as a title. The writing is very old; but the form of the letters is said by Captain Conder to be not older than the seventh century of our era.

The High Priest, a young man, had his portrait to sell, after he had previously secured a gratuity. He is tall and thin, with a long, oval face, light complexion, and good features of a strictly Jewish type; but this by no means implies that he is of pure Jewish blood, since the immigrants sent to Samaria to colonise the country, after the Ten Tribes had as a body been carried off, were themselves Semitic, and, to judge from the monuments, must have been practically undistinguishable from Hebrews. There was no attempt at official dignity, but the friendliest equality amongst all, though it is very different when the priestly robes have invested the leader with his ecclesiastical dignity. Most of the conversation I had with them was on the theme about which they were most concerned—their earnest desire to have an English teacher who should content himself with lessons from the five books of Moses, which alone are canonical with them. "We have no one," said the High Priest, pathetically, "who can teach the common branches of education, and we want an English as well as an Arabic training. We should like to know geography, writing, grammar, and history. We have tried your societies, but they will not send anyone to us if we do not let him teach the whole of the Old and the New Testament." I could not help thinking that to refuse an overture to teach from the Pentateuch alone was a great mistake, for it is part of the Word of God, and even where the whole Scripture is nominally the reading-book, teaching is practically confined to a part of it.

The Protestant Mission has a school at which I found thirty-four girls and thirty-nine boys, of course in separate buildings, to suit the ideas of the East, but the teachers seemed exclusively natives, which I could not help thinking a great mistake. The school, in missions generally, is the supreme hope; and in my opinion, until British missionaries, like the American, enter on their work duly trained to be themselves teachers, day by day, in their own schools, and faithfully give themselves to this work, the results will be very far from justifying the great expenditure involved. A missionary's life in Palestine, if he be not a schoolmaster, is as nearly as possible a sinecure. At Nablus, for example, the only congregation consists of the few Greek Christians in the town. Mahommedans can only be reached by the school, which is attended by some of their children. But of what use can a poor native teacher be, with a varnish of knowledge, over hereditary ignorance, in comparison with a European, born in the faith, and full of light and intelligence? The books used by the scholars were, I found, from the American Arabic printing-press at Beirout, as are all the school books of every kind, not only in Syria and Palestine, but in the valley of the Nile, along the North of Africa, and over every part of Western Asia.

But I must not leave the Samaritans without a few words about the last survivors of a people so venerable. Following the same customs and religious usages as their forefathers for at least 2,500 years, and, like them, marrying only amongst themselves, they offer a phenomenon perhaps unique, for it was not every Jew, even in St. Paul's day, who could say that he was of pure Hebrew blood (Phil 3:5). Not that the Samaritans are pure Jews; they are descended from Jews of the Ten Tribes who escaped deportation to Babylon and probably intermarried with the Semitic settlers sent into their country from the East by the Assyrian kings, after Samaria had fallen (2 Kings 17:24). The Jewish element, however, won the less earnest religiousness of the heathen immigrants to its side, with the result of creating in the end a zealous worship of Jehovah and repudiation of idolatry. Proud of their descent from the Ten Tribes, and unwilling to admit that it was tainted, their national spirit had already made them intensely Jewish in their feelings before the return of Judah from its captivity in Babylon, and there can be no doubt that but for the narrow policy of Ezra in secluding his community from all relations with them, they would have joined him with all loyalty, and accepted Jerusalem as their religious centre. But the spirit of Rabbinism, with its fierce exclusiveness and hatreds, was dominant in the great Reformer, and Jew and Samaritan became mortal enemies. The Five Books of Moses were adopted as their only sacred writings, but it is not easy to say whence they got their earliest copy of the Pentateuch. Most probably it was procured from the Jews at Jerusalem, on their return from Babylon, and before the two races finally quarrelled. The oldest manuscript now in their possession was written, apparently, as long ago as the time of Christ, though some give it a later origin; but in any case it is the oldest copy, by centuries, of any part of the Scriptures. When refused by Ezra any share in the building of the Temple at Jerusalem, the Samaritans, in their rage and hatred, built a rival sanctuary on Mount Gerizim; Manasseh, brother of the Jewish High Priest, and son-in-law of Sanballat, being its first High Priest. Two hundred years later, in the second century before Christ, this hated building was razed to the ground by John Hyrcanus—an act of destruction which increased, if possible, the terrible bitterness between the two peoples. A broad flat surface of rock on the summit of Mount Gerizim is still revered by the Samaritans of to-day as the spot where their temple once stood: a spot so holy to them that they would deem it a sin to step upon it with shod feet. Whenever they pray, moreover, they turn their faces to this point, as the Mahommedans turn towards Mecca, and as the Jews in Babylon and elsewhere turned towards Jerusalem (Dan 6:10; 2 Chron 6:34; 1 Kings 8:44; Psa 5:7; Jonah 2:4). Nothing could be more bitter than the hostility which existed, generation after generation, between Shechem and the Holy City. "The foolish people that dwell at Shechem," says the Son of Sirach;* and even our Lord, to prevent His message being at once rejected by the Jews, had to command His disciples not to enter into any city of the Samaritans, who were classed with the heathen (Matt 10:5). St. John, indeed, appears as if he wished almost to apologise for his Master's presence at Jacob's Well, by telling us that "He must needs go through Samaria" (4:4). Since the fall of Jerusalem the history of the Samaritans is that of gradual extinction. Thousands at a time were put to death under the Roman emperors because of their political restlessness, and, as we have seen, they have now dwindled to fewer than 200, old and young.

* Ecclus. l. 26.
South of the great mass of the Lebanon Mountains, Palestine has no central chain, with offshoots east and west, but, in place of it, a lower range, running southwards half-way between the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea, at an elevation so closely corresponding to that of the nearly level summits all over the land that the watershed of the country is often hard to recognise, except from the direction in which streams are flowing. In the valley of Shechem, the point at which water parts to the Dead Sea on the one hand, and the ocean on the other, is in the middle of the town of Nablus. Some of its brooks flow east, others west, and it is from this, as I have intimated, that the old name Shechem—a "Shoulder"—is derived. To walk by the side of gently murmuring or silent waters is so rare a pleasure in such a land that one can realise the force of the words uttered by David—"The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leadeth me beside the still waters" (Psa 23:1,2).

What a long history crowded on my mind as I looked around! Before Shechem was built, Abraham and Lot had pitched their black tents on the plain through which I had walked; their long-eared, great-tailed sheep, and black goats, their tall solemn camels, and their small-sized oxen, had here nibbled the grass or twigs, the cactus or flowers; Sarah and her women-slaves, of course duly veiled, had glided about over these very risings and sinkings of the valley, and the stalwart herdsmen had watered their charge out of the rippling brook, still flowing over its bed of shining white stones as it did in the bright mornings nearly four thousand years ago. Here lived Jacob and his wives—poor Leah and favoured Rachel—and the slave-mothers of so many of his sons; and all his children except Benjamin, who was not yet born, ran over these slopes and waded in this stream. Here, the Tribes had often gathered, from Dan on the north and Beersheba on the south, after that first great assembly in Joshua's day; their great attraction to this spot being not only its beauty, but the altar of their forefathers under the sacred oak, the first, simple approach to a national sanctuary. Here the great assembly of the nation, after the death of Solomon, had been held, with results disastrous to Israel, through the wrongheadedness and folly of the wise man's son. Jeroboam, the fugitive, returned from Egypt—the man who had the fortunes of his country in his hand—raised his tents somewhere near. Temperate and shrewd, but firm, he here made his proposal of reform on behalf of the Ten Tribes; and the insulting reception that was given to it was followed by the wild cry, from ten thousand voices—"What portion have we in David? Neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse! To your tents, O Israel; now, see to thine own house, David!" (1 Kings 12:16) "Then Jeroboam built Shechem" (1 Kings 12:25); that is, I suppose, changed it from a poor hamlet or village to a fine town. Here, too, centuries later, came a Descendant of Rehoboam, in simple dress; Claimant of a throne, like His ancestor, but a throne in the souls of men; and here He sat, weary, by Jacob's Well, and conversed with a humble woman, perhaps a distant offspring of some one of those who, in the long past, had turned their backs on the line of David.

Three miles east of Shechem, at the head of the great Wady Farah, which has in all ages been the highway from the Damieh ford of the Jordan to Shechem, there are great springs, marking the spot where lay Salem, the scene of the later work of John the Baptist, "near to Enon," "because there was much water there" (John 3:23). The springs rise in open ground amidst bare and unattractive hills, and flow down the slope, through a skirting of oleanders, in a strong brook which grows deeper on its way from the addition of numerous small streams. The village of Salem is a wretched collection of stone huts, square and flat-roofed, with a tree, large for Palestine, near them, enclosed within a stone wall for preservation, and with a few olives dotting the bare slopes. Looking westward, the eye crosses the great plain and travels up the valley of Shechem, but around Salem itself there is nothing at all attractive. To make the identification with John's Salem complete, there is a village called Ainun four miles north of the principal stream. With abundant water flowing all the year round, a central position, free space for the crowds, and a situation on the edge of the descent to the Jordan, of which the waters of the neighbourhood are, south of the plain of Esdraelon, the main tributary on the west, no position more favourable in every way could have been chosen by the Baptist for his work. That he once raised his earnest voice in regions now so silent and forlorn, casts an interest over the landscape more powerful than it could otherwise have had, even had it possessed great natural attractions.

 

Chapter 34 | Contents | Chapter 36

 

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